Orlando's Best Nightlife: Chic Views, Cheap Beer, Cheeky Culture and More

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Orlando's Best Nightlife: Chic Views, Cheap Beer, Cheeky Culture and More
07 July 2015

You love the nightlife, and Orlando’s got plenty of haunts for the beat driven (check out our 10Best Dance Clubs list for even more) but not everyone’s idea of nightlife involves throwing down to house or techno. For those who do – or maybe don’t care as much about the dance floor as they do the upscale, South Beachy vibe and the unparalleled city views – One80 Grey Goose Lounge should suit. Ensconced atop the city’s new Amway Center, it’s not only a post-Magic game favorite that also wins points for its industry nights and daytime patio parties. Those who prefer more of a $2.50 PBR dance party will feel right at home in their sneakers at downtown’s “everyone’s welcome” dance hall, the Independent. Depending on which night you go, the floor may be shaking to Motown or 80s, top 40 or disco classics, but the vibe is “un-sceney” and no one will mind your ripped jeans. How about something cheekier? At the Venue you may get a literal dose if Orlando’s resident burlesque troupe is performing. If not, you might find dance, song, experimental theater. The Venue serves it all and with a cozy bar in which to prep for your culture injection, you’ll be well prepared to take it in stride. Small plates and smooth jazz are on the menu at Jazz Tastings in Maitland, where the wine list is long, as are the instrumental breaks. Regular patrons – and locals just stumbling upon this hidden gem – enjoy both.

10 Orlando Improv Comedy Club and Dinner Theatre
Comedy is subjective, of course, but if you're a fan of stand-up and looking for a relatively intimate venue that books plenty of performers you've heard of -- at last update names like Jay Mohr, Mo'Nique, Carlos Mencia, John Witherspoon and Pauly Shore were on its calendar -- Orlando's Improv is the schedule you're going to want to have a look at. Of course, the warm-up acts or locals may hit the mark, too -- all the headliners were once up-and-comers, too. The Improv is located on I-Drive -- ideal for date nights or a loose evening out with colleagues if you're in town on business. (407-480-5233)

9 Mad Cow Theatre
What began as a two-show project conceived by a few local theater professionals in 1997 has since grown into something so big , it recently moved from its longtime downtown digs into a brand new second-floor space on Church Street. Mad Cow -- which runs everything from intimate cabarets to dramatic plays to musical productions -- is an Orlando staple, well-known in the Central Florida arts community and beyond. Whether your preferences run melodic ("The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" and "Dreamgirls" are among recent musical runs) or dramatic -- from Anton Chekov to Tennessee Williams to the Bard Shakespeare himself -- you'll likely find a Mad Cow production worthy of an evening out in the city's ever-growing downtown nightlife district. (407.297.8788)

8 Jazz Tastings
It's a common occurrence in the City Beautiful: you're minding your own business in some unassuming little shopping plaza and BOOM! (or in this case, the noise is a bit smoother, maybe with a little piano, some sax and some subtle, sultry vocal acrobatics) you unearth a small treasure you never knew existed. Such could be the case with Jazz Tastings, an intimate and cosmopolitan little hang tucked into the Village Plaza in Maitland. Live music six nights a week seduces customers, many of whom say they feel like regulars on their first night thanks to gracious staffers and owners who oversee the operation from end to end. A small menu of interesting tapas and rich desserts rounds out the experience, but the music and ambiance -- and maybe a nice bottle of bubbly -- would surely be enough to keep you in your seat for the evening. ((407) 661-1190)

7 The Venue
Set in the heart of eclectic Ivanhoe Village, the Venue is a veritable ground-zero for edgy arts and entertainment in Orlando. Perhaps most notably the home of VarieTEASE, Orlando's scintillating burlesque troupe founded by local entertainer-slash- icon, Baby Blue Starr, this performance space hosts all manner of theatrical productions along with live music, theatrical presentations, comedians, art expositions, DJ-hosted dance parties and more. An intimate space with cabaret-style seating and an inviting lobby where pre-show cocktail hours often sizzle, sooner or later the Venue's varied menu of arts, dance and music will hit your sweet spot and lure you in for a taste. ((407) 412-6895)

6 The Matador
Orlando has more than a few venues for quality cocktails. The Matador is one of them. Its off-the-path Ivanhoe location is a nice alternative to the downtown scene. Its plush, inviting interior -- warm and well-worn, just like the velvety upholstery -- is another. Creative barkeeps tick another box, as does its dog-friendly patio. Come on the early side and converse with the bartenders or quietly with a drinking partner as they mix up your mule or old fashioned -- or perhaps create something altogether new. Shoot a few games of stick. Underneath the vintage furniture and trendy pours, the Matador has a something of a "friendly local dive" quality -- and that may be precisely what makes it a bit cozier than some of the other venues offering a similar craft-cocktail experience

5 Independent Bar
Vintage rock to top 40, indie to 80s new wave, the Independent Bar hits that sweet spot between dance club and dive bar, a place where patrons are welcome to dress to impress or roll in in Chucks and ripped jeans. Seriously man, no one's looking, so relax. Multiple bars make getting drinks a non-issue and a friendly atmosphere makes for a relaxing, no-stress night of dancing and people-watching; patrons might be yuppies or rockers, goths or indie hipsters, it really is that eclectic. In fact, it's even 18+. Special nights like Wednesday night "Mac & Cheese" (DJ Mac spins the cheesiest music mix) are ever-evolving, but always indicative of the venue's convivial vibe. (407-839-0457)

4 Parliament House
No one, whether tourist or local, would deny that the look of the Parliament House complex has seen better days (after all this groundbreaking gay resort had its inaugural in the 1970s) but when they call the place "dirty" and "trashy," they're saying it with love. Usually. Whether they're hosting celebs like Chaka Khan, the Miss Gay Orlando pageant or the Lady Gaga concert after party, the atmosphere is always festive. There is on-site lodging, but you don't have to stay the night. Come for dancing, drag or an afternoon by the pool. Parliament House cuts a swath through the gay demographic and everyone, young and old, feels right at home. (407-425-7571)

3 Kush Ultralounge
"Sleek." "Sexy." "Clandestine." These are just three words that Kush enthusiasts use to describe their favorite Orlando hookah lounge, a hip upstairs hideaway where fans of the shisha delight in hip digs with speakeasy-like sensibility. White leather couches, multicolored ambient lighting, music and video meld with fragrant smoke to create a unique, club-like vibe in cozy, comfortable confines. In addition posh atmosphere and flavored tobacco, Kush serves beer and wine. And for those of you in need of a little fresh air, there's also an oxygen bar. Dress appropriately for a downtown night out; save your flips and cut-offs for the beach. ((407) 843-5874)

2 The Wine Room
The Tuscan-styled Wine Room makes use of a system of self-serve, portion-controlled Enomatic wine dispensers to facilitate service. And seriously? It's fantastic. Staffers here are not only passionate about wines, they are more than happy to spend time sharing their knowledge. With a little effort, they'll guide you to an $8 cabernet that rivals the most expensive bottle in the joint. The "automat" style makes sampling fun. Put some money on their debit-like wine card, and sample as many of the 150+ bottles as you want by plugging your card into each dispenser. Great for date nights, special occasions, friendly nights out. (407-696-9463)

1 One80 Grey Goose Lounge
Sitting atop Orlando's Amway Arena, One80 Grey Goose Lounge overlooks the city with sweeping views (hence the name) in a space many place side-by-side with South Beach's top venues. Lounge inside on sleek, white leather or sip that high-end vodka under the Spire Tower outside while DJs spin and the see-and-be-seen crowd mixes and mingles. One80 is a go-to hotspot post Magic game and generally fills up as the arena lets out, but Taboo Wednesdays are a new weekly event featuring guest DJs, go-go dancers and other live entertainment. Elev8 Mondays -- a service-industry night -- features $5 Grey Goose cocktails in an establishment that leans hard toward pricey; worth checking out for the discounts and the views. (407-440-7180)